I don’t get no respect,” Jewish comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s catch phrase, could have been that of the Denver Nuggets. But as our hometown team, for the first time in franchise history, is set to play for the NBA championship, there are no more excuses — for the national media, the ESPN analysts, the fans who bought NBA’s heavy marketing of a few select players. The Nuggets’ time is now, and those who keep ignoring them are increasingly looking like stubborn fools.
For us Denverites, this is a long, long time in coming. Our ecstasy is mixed with disbelief. When the buzzer sounded, after an incredible combined defensive effort from Aaron Gordon and Jamal Murray on the legendary LeBron James, we whispered to ourselves: “We swept the Lakers!” Wait, what? “We swept the Lakers? King James?!”
From the days of Alex English, Fat Lever and, possibly not a great but who among our readers could forget, Danny Schayes; to Dan Issel, Dikembe Mutombo, Carmelo Anthony and hometown hero Chauncey Billups; from Doug Moe to George Karl. Being a Nuggets fan was to veer from hope to disillusionment to resignation. But now — joy! Our faith is rewarded. We stand on the precipice of something none dared to imagine, even throughout the Nuggets’ impressive first and second round of these playoffs. Now, we all dare to believe.
As Jokic was awarded the MVP in this Western Conference Finals, and asked what the trophy meant to him, he responded in a way surely no Conference Finals MVP has ever before: “To be honest, nothing.” With his quintessential humility, he then insisted the trophy belonged to his teammates and coaches. He called himself, in an impressive play on words for a non-native speaker, “A first among equals.” That motif was verbalized by player after player in the post-game interviews. The Nuggets are a team in the truest sense of the word. Unselfish individuals focused on a common goal — to win a championship, for themselves, the franchise, the city and, most of all, the fans.
As we celebrate Shavuot, we are reminded of an illuminating midrash about receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Noting the Torah’s peculiar reference to the Jewish nation as a singular nation, the midrash comments that they were “like one man, with one heart.” They were able to receive the Torah only after achieving unprecedented unity. Perhaps we can model ourselves after Jokic, placing our common values over individual differences, in our collective effort to restore greater unity to the Jewish people and the American nation.
Like all good sports fans, we are believers in the power of the jinx. But we’re going to come out with it: Nuggets in 5.
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